By Ralph “Rusty” Garber

Rusty and his wife at our Volunteer Appreciation event. (Photo courtesy of Greyecho Photography, LLC)
Rusty and his wife at our Volunteer Appreciation event. (Photo courtesy of Greyecho Photography, LLC)

I have been trying to find a simple way to respond to the many people who ask me how I like volunteering at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. I have finally figured out what this feeling is that I have each night as I leave the house after helping our families for a few hours. I leave feeling grounded. Now, I simply tell anyone who asks, that it grounds me.

I have been a businessman for 35 years with a great company, the New York Life Insurance Company. I have held many different positions and lived in four different cities on the East Coast and in Ohio. The last eight years, however, I have traveled each week from my home to offices in Indianapolis and Columbus. I live about 100 miles from either city in a small village near the Indiana/Ohio border. Although it would seem glamorous to have an expense account, eat out each evening and stay at nice hotels, I can tell you it can soon become lonely and quite empty. Feeling there had to be a way for me to use my evenings more productively and that I was wasting away my talents by sitting in a hotel room and watching TV, I started looking for volunteering opportunities online. To my dismay, most required a commitment for a specific day and time and my travel schedule just couldn’t accommodate that. Finally, RMHC of Central Ohio popped up on my Google search and the organization allows me to have the ability to have a flexible schedule. Now I schedule time at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House when my business travels take me to Columbus.

I will let you surf through the various articles on the RMHC website to learn about the Ronald McDonald House in depth, but let me tell you about my little piece of it, what I do, and how it affects others and me. I am a Housewarmer/Host for the House. As such, I do pretty much whatever is needed that evening from doing laundry or making beds (don’t tell my wife), to cleaning the kitchen or filling the pop machine. By far, however, I love the times when I have the opportunity to interact with the families, either as a tour guide or just chatting with them in the dining room or public areas. Every situation is different and how I can make things just a little easier for them varies. Whenever I do a family tour, the most important thing I tell them is that the RMH staff and volunteers’ only job is to relieve them of the additional worry about food, housing, and to provide them the opportunity to be close to their child during their time of need. I always see a little relief in their tired and worried eyes when I tell them this piece of information.

Perhaps the best way to tell you about how my time at RMH affects me is to describe an amazing encounter I had with a young girl, probably eight or nine years old, at the end of my shift one evening.

As background information, I need to tell you my wife and I had an unusual accident in December with me tumbling off a ladder resulting in the ladder breaking my wife’s leg and the fall damaging my knee. The injury required me to rely on a cane and my wife having surgery and using a walker for a while. As time went on, I started to catch myself moaning and groaning about the pain and inconvenience of my injury to anyone who would listen. Frankly, I was tired of being hurt.

As I rounded the corner, I came face to face with this remarkable young lady who was moving about the hall quite nimbly using a walker. She looked up at me with more engaging eye contact than most of my business associates. Trying to make conversation, I commented to her that my wife was using a walker but that she didn’t get around nearly as well as the young girl did. With her eyes twinkling she said, “I am not going to need mine much longer.” I said that was great and asked why she wouldn’t need it any more. She went on to tell me that the following day she was having surgery to prepare her leg for a brand new prosthetic leg. She was excited and confident. Her mother and grandmother, who were standing nearby, looked at me, to see my reaction. I bent down a bit and quietly said to her that she will be walking and running again real soon. She smiled again and we went on our way.

As I got in my car to go back to the hotel, I sat back in the seat for a quiet moment before starting the engine and realized that, once again, I had received far more than I gave that night. Suddenly, my knee didn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore. I still have my cane but haven’t used it since that night. I let my grandkids play with it instead.

Yes, grounded…grounded feels good. I would strongly encourage anyone who took the time to read the ramblings that I scribbled out here, to call Kate or Meika at the House and explore the many ways you can get involved. Being grounded is an amazing blessing!